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Press briefing notes on Brunei penal code, Death penalty abolition and USA - execution of Mexican national

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 11 April 2014

1) Brunei penal code

We are deeply concerned about the revised penal code in Brunei Darussalam, due to come into force later this month, which stipulates the death penalty for numerous offences. These include rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammad, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and for robbery and murder. Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law.

The revised code, which is expected to enter into force on April 22, also introduces stoning to death as the specific method of execution for rape, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations.

Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited. A number of UN studies have also revealed that women are more likely to be sentenced to death by stoning, due to deeply entrenched discrimination and stereotyping against them, including among law enforcement and judicial officers.

The criminalization and application of the death penalty for consensual relations between adults in private also violates a whole host of rights, including the rights to privacy, to equality before the law, the right to health and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The provisions of the revised penal code may encourage further violence and discrimination against women and also against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

The revised penal code also contains provisions that violate the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and of expression. Articles 213, 214 and 215 of the revised penal code criminalize printing, disseminating, importing, broadcasting, and distributing publications “contrary to Hukum Syara”, which literally translates as “contrary to the order of Shariah” by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

We urge the Government to delay the entry into force of the revised Penal Code and to conduct a comprehensive review ensuring its compliance with international human rights standards.

Brunei has maintained an effective moratorium on use of the death penalty since 1957. We urge the Government to establish a formal moratorium on the use of the death penalty and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether.

2) Death penalty abolition

On a related note, we welcome the accession of Gabon and El Salvador to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP2), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. This brings the total number of State parties to the ICCPR-OP2 to 80.

3) USA - execution of Mexican national

We deeply regret the execution of Mexican national Ramiro Hernandez Llanas in Texas on Wednesday. Mr Hernandez-Llanas is the 16th person to have been executed in the US in 2014 and the sixth prisoner executed this year in Texas.

The UN opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of policy and principle; but, in addition, this case once again places the US in breach of international law, as Mr Hernandez was not granted consular access pursuant to Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling stating that the United States must review and reconsider the cases of 51 Mexican nationals sentenced to death – including Mr Hernandez – as they had not received consular services. Under international law, the violation of the right to consular notification affects the due process; and the execution of a foreign national deprived of his rights to consular services constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, in contravention of articles 6 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US ratified in 1992.

It is important to recall that the execution by the State of Texas of Mr Hernandez Llanas engages the United States' international responsibility. We are once again disappointed that neither the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles nor the Governor took steps open to them to prevent this breach of US obligations under international law from occurring.

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+ 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org ) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 /rshamdasani@ohchr.org).

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